Not a Warm Whiting Welcome
By John Hmurovic
In 1898, Frank Ward of Freeport, Pennsylvania walked into Whiting. He probably never forgot the experience, no matter how hard he might have tried. Frank was a pedestrian. That word, “pedestrian,” had a different meaning in the 1800s than it does today.
Before the late 1800s, when baseball gained widespread popularity, team sports were not common in the United States. Individual sports like boxing and horse racing were at the top of the American sports world, both helped along in popularity because they often welcomed betting. Another sport of that era which also drew gamblers and was extremely popular, was pedestrianism. While boxing and horse racing are still popular today, pedestrianism has faded from the sports world. But in the 1800s the best pedestrians in the country had national followings.
Pedestrianism was basically walking. Pedestrians, as they were called, would walk long distances. In 1867, Edward Payson Weston walked from Portland, Maine to Chicago in 30 days. That 1,136-mile walk received national attention, and not only earned Weston $10,000, but it also started a pedestrian craze across the country.
One of those who hoped to earn some cash as a pedestrian was Frank Ward. At $200, his jackpot was not a large one. Even when adjustments are made for inflation, $200 then is not quite equal to $3,000 today. But Frank must have needed the money. He accepted a wager that he could get from his home in Freeport, Pennsylvania to Chicago in ten days. Furthermore, he said he would walk those 500 miles with just five dollars in his pocket. He was doing well until he got close to Whiting.
Ward walked the railroad tracks. As he approached the Standard Oil refinery he was hit on the head without warning. This is how a Whiting newspaper described what happened after a “burly assailant” knocked him to the ground:
He was not long unconscious, and when he began to revive he was given another blow in the mouth for good measure. The robbers then went through his pockets and took from Ward about four dollars, all the money he had.
Ward staggered into Whiting and went to the office of Dr. Putnam. His scalp was cut open over his left eye, “and it’s possible that his skull was fractured,” the newspaper said. “Two teeth were missing, and his lip was badly cut.” After a few refreshments to revive him, Ward got back on the tracks and finished his journey to Chicago in time to win his wager. There is no record of whether the robbers were ever caught, although it’s unlikely they were. As for Ward, it’s also unlikely that he ever had a desire to return to Whiting.